Finding life in the Last Judgment

By Wayne Schwab

Many Christians shy away from Advent’s Last Judgment themes. Jurgen Moltmann’s healthy view of judgment, with Christ at the center, can help you to a brighter living of God’s mission.

Moltmann complains that the Christian idea of a Last Judgment [has come] to resemble the mythology of Egypt’s pharaohs, in which the god Anubis weighed souls and the god Osiris pronounced verdicts. Medieval portraits of the Last Judgment substituted Christ for Osiris and the archangel Michael for Anubis, and inculcated a fear of hell that “poisoned the idea of God in the soul,” Professor Moltmann says. He further states, “The image of the God who judges in wrath has caused a great deal of spiritual damage.”

Last Judgment (Ravenna) – Photo by Nick Thompson

The alternative, in Professor Moltmann’s view, is to put Jesus Christ at the center of this final drama. “It is high time to Christianize our traditional images and perceptions of God’s Final Judgment,” he says. Any Last Judgment with Christ at the center must answer the cries of human victims for justice, without simply meting out vengeance on the perpetrators of injustice. A Christian eschatological vision (a vision of the “last things” literally) would involve not the retributive justice of human courts but “God’s creative justice,” which can heal and restore the victims and transform the perpetrators.

The goal of a final judgment, in this interpretation, is not reward and punishment but victory over all that is godless, which he calls “a great Day of Reconciliation.” Professor Moltmann argues for the universal preservation and salvation not only of humans, as individuals and as members of groups, but also of all living creatures. It has been “a fatal mistake of Christian tradition in doctrine and spirituality,” he argues, to emphasize the “end of the old age” rather than “the new world of God,” the beginning of the “life of the world to come.”

This resurrected life will be bodily and worldly, and its expectation, he says, should teach people to “give ourselves wholeheartedly to this life here and surrender in love” to its “beauties and pains.”

[This summary is excerpted from Peter Steinfels’ column in the NY Times of 1/20/07. Prof. Moltmann’s two presentations on CDs are found at the Episcopal Marketplace; 800-229-3788.]

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